Top positive review
72 people found this helpful
on 25 March 2013
There has been a growing concern, bordering on fear, of what religious groups have labelled "The New Atheism". The proponents upon which that label has been pinned are "Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. A previous reviewer, full of Christian charity, hopes to discredit Grayling by casting him together with Dawkins and Hitchens, and claiming that Grayling does not introduce "enough interesting new ideas to satisfy someone who has read "The God Delusion" or "God is Not Great" (written by Dawkins and Hitchens respectively). That is neither a fair nor accurate statement - it is no different from saying that we should find that Rick Warren or any other Christian writer has nothing original to say if we have read the Bible. The allusion by that reviewer is also unfair and unkind to Dawkins and company. Although none of them had called himself a "New Atheist", nonetheless, it is no different from a Christian calling himself a "born-again Christian". Such descriptions can be used by all parties neutrally without aspersions of moral inadequacy.
In the general sense, anyone who thinks about life is a philosopher. Grayling is different only in that he makes philosophy his vocation; Dawkins is a scientist, and Hitchens was a journalist and writer. This is a deep, thoughtful book for intelligent, well-read, and open-minded people who are interested in knowing the case against religion. Grayling does more than that. In the second part of his book he presents an argument for Humanism, of which, contrary to the previous reviewer's claim, Grayling has a great deal to say. "Humanism", he says, "is the concern to draw the best from, and make the best of, human life in the span of the human lifetime, in the real world, and in sensible accord with the facts of humanity as these are shaped and constrained by the world. This entails that humanism rejects religious claims about the source of morality and value." As a word, "humanism" has a relatively short history but the ethical tradition it carries goes back in history "older by nearly a millennium than Christianity".
Grayling discusses specific topics under chapter headings such as "Humanism and the Ends of Life". The religious tend to lean in favour of what they call the "pro-life" position in respect of issues such as voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted death as well as abortion. He explains, clearly, and in detail, why the religious attitude represents "an egregious example of the `I don't like it therefore you are not allowed to do it' mentality which is what makes moralism of that kind so profoundly objectionable." He offers a fresh and practical suggestion for those who fear that mistakes might be made in the voluntary euthanasia process - that is, by creating a medical sub-division of anaesthesiology where specialists can work within the framework of law and under the supervision of a hospital ethics committee.
There are many fresh ideas that the reader can find in this clear and accessible book. Not only will he find good reasons to reject belief in any supernatural deity, but he will find that that is a much sounder basis for behaving ethically and living morally, something many Christians believe is impossible without God. Grayling shows that, in fact, it is impossible with God. He shows why "the world is far more consistent with the existence of an evil deity than a good deity". Citing Amos 3:6, "Does evil befall a city, and the Lord has not done it?" and Isaiah 45:5 "I make peace and create evil; I am the Lord who does all these things", and Job 2:10 "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" Even so, as Grayling reminded us, the Anglican Church has since 1996 abolished the idea of Hell as a place of eternal punishment. Now, the Church of England says that hell is just "the absence of God". Other Christians disagree with the COE position, which therefore makes it terribly difficult to know what to believe about God.
If you enjoy this book you might like Mark Roncace's "Raw Revelation: The Bible They Never Tell You About", and also Lawrence Wright's account of the creation of the Church of Scientology in "Going Clear".